I’m not a seasoned air traveler. I fly sporadically for work, and even less so for vacation. I hadn’t been in an airport for nearly two years when I pulled into the Pittsburgh International Airport last week. Destination: San Diego, for the Romance Writers of America Annual Conference.
But I’m an expert at air travel compared to my mom, who was coming with me on the trip. She hadn’t flown since pre 9/11. She knew all the new restrictions of course, but that morning on the drive to the airport we ran them over in our minds one last time. We’d have to take off our shoes, belts, and jackets. I double-checked that my laptop was easily accessible in the front zippered panel of my carry-on. Did she remember to keep her liquids in three ounce bottles and segregated in a quart Ziploc bag?
There’d been a lot in the news about air travel lately, and none of it good. I insisted we leave hours early for the inevitable long security lines. Once we’d checked our bags, we took our place at the end of one such line, watching the other passengers go through the strange ritual that is airport security. We pulled out our boarding passes and driver’s licenses and prepared for our turn.
A security agent walked through the line, checking boarding passes. When he reached us, he inspected our passes.
“You’re Pre-Check,” he said. “You go over there.”
He pointed to a line with about two people in it.
“You’re kidding,” I said, looking at the sixty or so people ahead of us in our current line.
He shook his head as if to say, I’m a TSA Agent, do you think I kid?
We sped over before he could change his mind. Going through the Pre-Check line was glorious. We didn’t need to remove our belts or jackets. We didn’t need to remove our shoes! If only I had known, I would’ve worn my comfortable and sturdy lace-up sneakers instead of my slip-ons. I didn’t have to pull out my laptop. Our three ounces of potentially deadly toothpaste, shampoo, and eye drops were not subjected to intense scrutiny.
We were through the entire screening process in less than five minutes.
“Why did we get to go through that line?” Mom asked me.
I had no idea. To be honest, I still don’t.
I told a fellow conference attendee in San Diego about the Pre-Check line.
“Oh yes! I pay good money to go through that line but it’s worth every penny.”
She explained that you had to pre-apply for the Pre-Check line, and pay an eighty-five dollar fee.
I had not pre-applied for anything. And I certainly hadn’t paid an eighty-five dollar fee. I was still smarting over the fifty dollars in fees we’d paid to check our bags.
“Then you were first class?” the lady asked.
I could tell she didn’t believe me. After talking to her, I wasn’t sure I believed me. But when we checked in at the San Diego airport to fly home, our boarding passes again printed out with those sweet little words in the upper left corner: TSA PRE-CHECK. We ended up having to go through airport security twice in San Diego (that’s another story for another post) and both times we breezed through the Pre-Check lines.
When we got home I googled the TSA’s Pre-Check policies. All I could find was information on how to apply and pay the eighty-five dollar fee. Apparently we’d been randomly selected for a complimentary Pre-Check, even though I found multiple articles insisting that practice had been eliminated.
So it’s an unsolved mystery. It didn’t seem right that we didn’t have to go through the regular security line.
But hey…I’m not about to look a Pre-Checked horse in the mouth.